Whom should a woman marry?

Since time immemorial, young women have been asking themselves the question, whom should I marry? “Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief” is the traditional way of asking this question, symbolizing the many choices out there — although I haven’t heard it for many years and it may be politically incorrect anyway.

But this article is not just about women who want to get married — it’s really about anyone ready to form a long-term relationship (and that includes gays and lesbians, too).

But who loves the other more?

One consideration is “do I want someone I really love” or “do I want someone who really loves me”? Forming a permanent relationship with someone you dearly love is the best possible outcome; after all, that means your fondest wishes are coming true. But can you make that happen? Love is notorious for sometimes striking one half of a pair but not the other. Or striking them both, but unequally.

Much more workable is teaming up someone who seriously loves you; they’ll want you so much that they’ll treat you right and never want to leave. If you’re willing to accept this type of relationship, you’re more likely to find someone to choose you.

Power in a relationship

The power in a relationship goes to whomever loves the other less. For the one who loves more will be anxious to do everything possible to please, while the one who loves less can always be ready to walk away.

What about the money?

It used to be that a woman was very much concerned with the man’s earning power. After all, the more he earns, the better her lifestyle will be, right? (For college students, the question is, what is his major? An engineering major will earn more in a lifetime than an art history major.) But these days both sexes are expected to graduate from school and enter the paid workforce, so one person’s paycheck is not so all-important as it once was.

Love is a race, not a contest

Fortune smiles on those who marry early, while the best candidates are still available. Even if find you are perfect for Mr. or Ms. Wonderful, if that someone is already taken, you’ve lost your opportunity.

Yes, it is possible that he or she could get a divorce and marry you. (I had an uncle who did exactly this.) But the odds are against that happening — and society frowns upon this sort of thing, anyway.)

So the winner is not going to be the one who is the best possible match for that person; it’s the one who happens to get there first.

Polygamy

In societies where a man is allowed to have more than one wife, it’s the first wife that gets special privileges. So even in this case, love is also a race.

Soulmate

One reason not to get married early is you know your soulmate is out there, and you don’t want to be already taken when he/she finally shows up. Of course, that might never happen — and then you would be marrying late, after all the best candidates are already married; or living out your life single.

But should you get married at all?

100 years ago, the answer would have been yes! of course! what’s wrong with you for even asking? But now, it’s not so clear what one should do. It used to be that men were deliberately kept ignorant of things like cooking and doing their laundry, and women were denied the sort of education that would allow them to earn a good salary. So men and women needed each other, on a practical level. (Back in the day, a talented woman only had three options for paid work: nurse, teacher, or secretary.)

Combining marriage and career

Even today, women are expected to most of the work for caring for the family — unpaid work, and if she did have a job when her help at home was needed, she was expected to quit that job and return to the nest. Generations ago a college education was considered to be “wasted” on a woman, because she was just going to stay home anyway. Even if she did have a paycheck job to go to, it would have been an on-again, off-again thing; maybe having 30 years of paid work in her life compared to a man’s typical 40 years.

So women have traditionally opted for careers that need less education than those that led to the highest-paying professional jobs. It takes 3 years of graduate school to become a nurse; compared to 4 or 5 years or more to become a doctor.

Typical advice for a young woman wanting to combine career and family is to get your college degree first, then perhaps backpacking around the world as some people do, possibly working for a while in her chosen career field, followed by settling down with a nice someone. Years later, she’s ready to go back to work again, but now her degree is too old for an entry-level job, and she has a big gap in her work history which makes it hard to convince a prospective employer that’s she’s ready to come back without quitting to do something else for a while.

Here’s a possible alternative: Get married before finishing college, have a few kids early on if that’s what they want (“after 25, this uterus is closed”), and when the kids are old enough to not need constant attention, go back and finish your degree. Then get that entry-level job and start climbing the career ladder. By staying in the work force continuously from that point on, she can be seen as a serious player in the world of work. After a decade or so, she and her husband can afford to take nice vacations when they’ve got money to do it in style — better than backpacking across Thailand in your early 20’s.

The problem with the above plan is that the husband must be on board with it. If he suddenly decides she should stay home because he “can earn enough money for the both of us” or something like that, she could lose the opportunity to have a serious career.

In any case, here’s to your good luck in playing the game of love.

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